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Okinawa interviews Defense Ministry officials in step to stop US base reclamation

NAHA -- Officials of the Okinawa Prefectural Government interviewed officials of the Defense Ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau on Aug. 9 in a step toward retracting permission to reclaim the sea off the coast of the Henoko district in the central part of the southernmost prefecture.

The reclamation has been pushed by the central government for the transfer of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in southern Okinawa. The plan was agreed upon between Tokyo and Washington in 1996 but it has faced tough resistance from local residents hoping to reduce the heavy U.S. military presence on the southern island.

The prefecture intends to withdraw the permit before Aug. 17, when the central government plans to start the landfill work, as announced by the late Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga on July 27.

During the hearing on Aug. 9, Okinawa Defense Bureau officials argued against reasons cited by the prefecture to retract the approval, and requested more opportunities to explain their position. The prefecture turned down the request and the hearing came to an end.

Meanwhile, following Onaga's death on Aug. 8, local political parties are gearing up for an upcoming gubernatorial election, which is expected to be held either on Sept. 23 or 30.

Representatives of the local ruling factions gathered in the prefectural capital of Naha on Aug. 9 and agreed that they would rapidly field a candidate supportive of Onaga's will of stopping the move of Futenma Air Station to Henoko.

The prefectural chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party, which is a ruling force in national politics, has started preparations to enlist Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima, 54, as its candidate. The party wants the gubernatorial election to take place on the same day as the mayoral race to select Sakima's successor, and is now making consultations on the timing of Sakima's resignation as mayor.

(Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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